Monday, March 31, 2008

Life in slow motion

I just got it.

It took me 45 years to really see this cartoon. While looking for a different Addams cartoon a couple days ago, I happened across this one, and at last! the light went on.

I was about (?) 8 or 9? when I first saw it. In addition to the Peanuts books, I was raised in a home stocked with a library's worth of Charles Addams, possibly a peculiar thing to appeal so to a little girl, but I pored over them for hours.

At that time all I saw was the spectral "hand" of the tree root. I even noticed it was reaching for the glass, but to me it still looked menacing. It's gonna pick his pocket too, I bet! That trapped, dehydrated, desperate little tree over on the left? It barely registered, and 45 years of looking at it numerous times didn't change that.

Possibly, this demonstrates a simple rule of childhood, like: the way you perceive something when you're 8 gets locked in, and you see it that way forever because you see your mind's interpretation instead of the real object.

But there's another factor at work here and that's the ADD thing. My first take on anything I see, read, hear, is just that narrow. I can't handle much info, so I zero in on key elements and let them define my response. Often very inaccurately.

Last time I wrote about ADD Life, some interesting responses came up in the comments, mostly about remembering things, retrieving stored information out of what Mike likened to a bank of file drawers in the brain. Diane Harrington's term "attention difference" brought a grin to my face because it's so like the "differently focused" label I concocted for myself.

There are also encounters with the new, and with the unexpected, to consider. I can be extremely focused, and that's the word: I focus in the extreme. I narrow my mental aperture to a pinhole, find a key element and screen out the rest. In searching for something that's usually in a predictable spot, I look in that spot. If it's not there then a normal person opens the aperture a notch and widens the search. I do too, but only after
SYSTEM FAILURE/SHUTDOWN/REBOOT. And a few $#%* -type words.

In fairness, most people use mental shortcuts, especially people whose day involves sifting through minutiae. I've noticed, with my teeth gritted, that doctors are real big on this. You can say, "I haven't walked in the woods for a month and this rash appeared yesterday," and they listen for key words: "walked in woods"; "rash." Then ka-ching! (in more ways than one) a poison ivy diagnosis pops out, the one-month gap between the walk and the symptoms unheard.

I go further and simplify even the already-simple:

ADD QUIZ time!

Can you spot the exercise ball in this picture?

I couldn't. Really. It's usually on the floor in front of the cedar chest. I walked in, looked there, walked out and asked Larry, "Where'd the exercise ball go?"

Bless him, he resists the nearly irresistible "Are you blind?!" kind of response. He's had 12 years to get used to this stuff, and just tells me, if he knows the answer. He's a kind and supportive man. Who values his life.

Meanwhile, my life's work is to rethink. Re-look. Reread, re-listen, reassess nearly everything, for the details, the nuance, the broader picture that I nearly always miss the first time. And accept the fact that I will never cover more than a third-to-a-half of the territory others cover, because my gears turn so bloody slow.

But lest you think that I fail to see the flexibility advantages that come with learning slowly, I have encountered the upside.

One day in library school we got a classroom exercise. Prof handed out 4 sheets of paper to each of us. On the top sheet were numbers (1-20, if I recall correctly) scattered randomly, like a kids' connect-the-dots puzzle. He took out a stopwatch. Our task was to connect the numbers in order.

We all fumbled through it. Then we did the 2nd sheet. It was identical to the first, so, having done it once, most people got faster. By now I was coming in last. The third sheet was also identical to the first 2. The rest of the class whipped through it and put down their pencils, while I continued to fumble.

The prof took 2 dollars out of his wallet and slapped them onto the table. "OK, the first person to finish the last sheet wins the money," he said.

[cackle] Yep, sheet 4 was a whole different pattern. I finished first and won the 2 bucks. I had less to unlearn.

He suggested that most people would buy the class a dozen doughnuts and share the winnings. No one in that group really needed doughnuts, and he for sure didn't. On my all-frozen-dinner grad student budget, it would buy me two -- two! -- "Mr. P's" frozen pizzas (They fit in my toaster oven), so in another demonstration of my decent IQ, I kept the money.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Stealing a car

This post by genuine, and multiply award-winning, artist Brian Fies on his Mom's Cancer blog, shows how he used a model to place an automobile into a drawing.

I am about as genuinely Not An Artist as it gets. People who can draw seem to me to be channeling a god who snubs me. I loved Brian's post, and I love any illustration that an artist does which shows his/her process. It remains a very mysterious process to me.

But I did copy a car image one time. Brian's post inspired me to haul my 1976 embroidered denim shirt out of storage.

I miss the old ten dollar bill. The engraving on the back, of the U. S. Treasury building in around 1928, is just delightful and so much more interesting than the new serious designs. One element that always enchanted me was the little car on the street. I always thought it was a Model T Ford, but according to wikipedia's article on the bill's history it's no particular model, just a sort of generic car of the era.

I traced it onto the shirt with a pencil and embroidered it, taxing my artistic abilities to the max, while I watched the Ford/Carter debates on the dorm-basement TV. Did a so-so job on its proportions, but, hey, it's not a real car anyway, so accuracy is irrelevant!

Attack of the Fifty Foot Cat

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A great idea, at the time

There's a bicycle path along the local leg of the highway, through Murrells Inlet. There's also a bike path through the state park, which lies on the other side of the tidal creek.

For years, the plan has been to build an unbroken 11-mile bikeway from Litchfield (south of the park) to the county line (at the north tip of Murrells Inlet). Each leg is to be connected to the others. And we loved the idea. Actually, we still love it in theory, but we failed big time to take a hard look at what they planned.

This creek is a fragile tidal estuary. It's home to a lot of wildflife, seasonal and year-round, including the threatened woodstork and the Eastern brown pelican. When a developer across the street decided to build a shopping/condo eco-horror, a bunch of us residents took it to hearings and got the plan reduced to accomodate a big wooded setback around its perimeter. It's still going to release asphalt-soaked runoff into the creek, the developer is still taking down beautiful 150-200 year old live oaks, and we're still depressed as hell by the destruction, but we did what we could.

The bike path was another matter. We paid no attention to the plan. Stupid!

The Americans With Disabilites Act is a great thing, and if we'd realized the impact it would have on this path, we'd have found a way to make it meet ADA and still be more ecologically sound. But it slipped under our radar. When we heard the power saw, we ran outside.

First, the already-made bike path through town is on both sides of the street. But to cross the creek along this bridge (thereby connecting to the park's path), both northbound and southbound lanes will run together on the east side of the road. This triggers width requirements that, according to the contractor, mean two wheelchairs must be able to pass one another. Fine, ADA is important.

The next part, though, is elaborate and unnecssary. Some grandiose wanna-be Nature Lover decided that it needs to have a scenic overlook (which will go on the other side of this guardrail). So now a big wide observation deck must go where we thought only a level, bikeable path over the bank needed to go.

That means the death of that beautiful old cedar in the top picture, and, worse, it means pressure-treated pilings to support the deck. Pressure-treated lumber is necessary if you have to use wooden posts. Of course. Otherwise they'd rot quickly. And while there are newer, less toxic types of pressure treatment, they are lower-rated, and suitable only for residential use. To live outdoors in salt water, the rating must be 2.5 (explained in this article -- see the green box and below), and that means CCA (chromated copper arsenate. Yes, that is arsenic).

Bottom photo by Larry

At the very least, we could have required some other material be used. None are very good, rammed into this precious creek, but pressure-treatment means slow leach of poison into the water when the tide comes up.

Woulda coulda shoulda, again. From now on, we'll have to be vigilant about any project, even one that seems as blasted nature-friendly as a bike path.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I'm curled on my chair, or was a few minutes ago, listening to Joss Stone. Joss, Katie Melua, KT Tunstall, I listen to a lot of kids I'm old enough to be the mother of. They sing about the way their bodies sing, like roaring crystal springs, while I feel like a stagnant pond today. Unintelligently designed to make babies then croak when I'm done, not to do what I'll be doing, thanks to science, stroll through decades with equipment that doesn't know what to do with itself anymore so it needs pinches and scrapes from unnatural objects that make it recoil and that silence its quieter song for awhile. They leave me curled in a chair for the day listening to Joss Stone sing about things old women like me also get to have, those extra decades, entitled to them or not, natural or not, the walks and the crystal air and nights curled with my head on my arm while my body sings more softly now, but still sings.